3 Favorite Gmail Hacks

At Nonprofit Marketing Guide, we use Google Apps for Work to manage our email, calendars, etc.  As a two-person company, we don’t have lots of time to waste. And neither do you.

So if you are a Google Apps or Gmail user, you might like my three favorite Gmail hacks. (I know these work on Apps; I apologize if they don’t or work differently with plain ol’ Gmail.)

I’ll be sharing more time-saving tips for nonprofit marketers during Smart Nonprofit Marketing: Advice and Hacks for Working Faster, But Not Harder! on July 30.

Making Gmail Better

1. Create an ACTION label, then apply Stars.

I have a label called _ACTION. Anything in my inbox that I can’t deal with immediately, but that requires additional time, goes into the _ACTION label (the extra characters affect the order that labels appear).

Then within the _ACTION folder, I use the Stars feature (Settings > General > Stars) to quickly categorize each email based on what I need to do with it. You can also apply a star when the email is open, before you label it.

I have simplified my system to just four stars, which aren’t actually stars, but that is still what Google calls them, because the yellow star is the default. This system is how I stay very close to Inbox Zero.



Red Exclamation means this is something that requires real brain power on my part, and therefore more than just a few minutes of time, but that I still want to get done within the next 48 hours or so. If it requires a lot of time, or I won’t be able to get to it for a few days, I forward the email to my Remember the Milk account, where it becomes a to-do list item and the email in Gmail is archived.

Purple Question Mark is something I need to reply to, but can probably do without a tremendous amount of effort. (If it only requires a very quick reply off the top of my head, I would have done it within the inbox without labeling and starring.)

Blue I is for information I want to read. I used to have a  _READ label but I never checked it. So emails died there. Since I am in and out of the _ACTION folder regularly, I see them, but know I can wait until I have time to read them because they have the Blue I.

Green Check is for things I need to check on or follow-up on, usually meaning I need to get back in touch with someone else or go look something up before I can get back to the person.  These typically don’t require a lot of brain power, but could be time-consuming depending what it is.

Note how the system has energy and time required built into it. That’s really important to us introverts! I do red when I’m feeling high energy, green and purple when I am mid-level, and blue when I am tired or just looking for a break.

Unfortunately, this system does not carry over to mobile, which is a bummer.  You just get the yellow star, which I don’t use. So, on the phone, I do a ton of sorting into _ACTION and deleting/archiving, but the star coding has to wait for the computer.

2. Create Canned Responses

This is under Settings > Labs. Enable Canned Responses.

This lets you save draft text that you find yourself typing over and over. You simply save and then insert the Canned Response instead of continuing to type it over and over.  The canned responses I use the most are to reply to people whose messages I don’t want to delete outright, but who don’t really require a completely original personalized response either.

The names for the ones I use the most are

  • Wants to guest blog
  • Thanks for thinking of me, but
  • Great opportunity, but have to pass
  • OK, here’s my meeting calendar

You get the idea.  As my friend and Canned Responses fan Melinda McKee says, “Obviously, you want to customize each use of any given canned response so you still sound relevant to the specific recipient, but it’s a great way to start with a template.”

3. Boomerang This

Instead of creating reminders to yourself about dealing with certain emails or having to remember to see if someone replied, Boomerang will do it for you. It’s a browser plugin/extension that recognizes when you are in Gmail.



You can use it in many ways:

  • to send an email at a later time (so you aren’t one of those people who emails others at 11 pm even if you decide to work then);
  • to archive a message for now, but pop it back into your inbox at a more relevant time (in the example above, the email talks about something happening on July 18, but I got the email on July 8. Boomerang is letting me choose an action in relation to the date in the email = smart!);
  • to send your future self an email at a later date (instead of leaving reminders to yourself in draft or sending them now) or
  • to let you know if someone hasn’t replied to your email within a certain timeframe.

It’s awesome. And just writing this post reminds me of a million ways I could be using it even better than I am right now.  There is a Boomerang app for mobile and a paid version that I haven’t tried yet, but I think I will soon.

Those are my three favorite Gmail hacks. What are yours? Share in the comments!

And let me know if you try any of these and how/if they work for you too!




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